|"An activist carries a picture of slain businessman Khaled Said with Arabic words that read 'Why was Khaled killed?' in Cairo on June 19." (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press)|
By Jennifer Preston
The New York Times on MSNBC.com, February 5, 2011
If there is a face to the revolt that has sprouted in Egypt, it may be the face of Khaled Said. That 28-year-old Egyptian businessman was pulled from an Internet cafe in Alexandria last June by two plainclothes police officers who beat him to death in the lobby of a residential building after they learned that he had posted a video on his personal blog showing them with illegal drugs. The Egyptian police and security services have a well-earned reputation for brutality and snuffing out political opposition. But in Mr. Said, they unwittingly chose the wrong target. Within five days of his death, an anonymous human rights activist created a Facebook page -- We Are All Khaled Said -- that posted cellphone photos from the morgue of his battered and bloodied face, the video of the corrupt police officers and other YouTube videos contrasting his corpse with pictures of his bright and smiling face from happier days. By mid-June, 130,000 people joined the page to get and share updates about the case. It became and remains the biggest dissident Facebook page in Egypt, even as protests continue to sweep the country, with more than 473,000 users, and it has helped spread the word about the demonstrations in Egypt, which were ignited after a revolt in neighboring Tunisia toppled the government there. 'There were many catalysts of the uprising,' said Ahmed Zidan, an online political activist marching toward Tahrir Square for a protest last week. 'The first was the brutal murder of Khalid Said.'
But Mr. Said's death may be the starkest example yet of the special power of social networking tools like Facebook even -- or especially -- in a police state. The Facebook page set up around his death offered Egyptians a rare forum to bond over their outrage about government abuses. 'Prior to the murder of Khaled Said, there were blogs and YouTube videos that existed about police torture, but there wasn't a strong community around them,' said Jillian C. York, the project coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University. 'This case changed that.' While it is almost impossible to isolate the impact of social media tools from the general swirl of events that set off the popular uprisings across the Middle East, there is little doubt that they provided a new means for ordinary people to connect with human rights advocates trying to amass support against police abuse, torture and the Mubarak government’s permanent emergency laws allowing people to be jailed without charges. [...]"